There Goes the Neighborhood

According to someone who works in Oakland Unified’s district office, parents in the Redwood Heights neighborhood are worried that property values will drop now that a standardized test cheating incident at the local elementary school has invalidated the school’s test scores for 2009-2010.

Now, there’s no question that test scores influence home prices. People pay a premium to live within Hillcrest’s boundaries and are peeved when they learn that the address doesn’t guarantee a spot in the spectacularly successful K-8 school. But is it possible that one year of no API could translate into a loss of home values in the neighborhood? We asked real estate maven Vanessa Bergmark with Red Oak Realty.

The short answer is no. However, the cheating episode at Redwood Heights School was a topic of discussion at Bergmark’s office. Would agents have to disclose the incident to buyers, an agent wondered. Bergmark’s gut told her that cheating in one classroom in one year didn’t make the cut. Although, ultimately it will be the lawyers who decide. With a school like Redwood Heights, which has great test scores, combined with the support of a committed and diverse community, the only danger is that anxious residents would convey the message that something was amiss and “create their own destiny,” said Bergmark.

Deidre Joyner, a real estate agent with Red Oak whose children are third-generation graduates of Redwood Heights School, said she hasn’t heard any of her neighbors worry about the lack of an API score for 2009-2010 influencing home prices, which she says range from $560,000 to around $750,000.

As Bergmark said, it’s all about perception. She offered the example of listings in North Oakland that fall within the borders of the city’s gang injunction. Is it a selling point if a home is in the “North Oakland Safety Zone?” It depends on how you look at it.

Tapas in Japanese

Two (fairly) new establishments have joined the venerable Toshi Sushi in catering to Montclair’s yen for Japanese food. One might ask if that’s more Japanese food than one small village requires. But it only makes sense to ask if Montclair needs three Japanese restaurants if one thinks of Japanese food as a single, unvarying cuisine.

The Characters Spell Izakaya

The Japanese kitchen is as varied as any other of the world’s great food traditions. And, once a cuisine reaches the United States it evolves. The two new(ish) Japanese restaurants in the village represent different types of Japanese fare as well as different adaptations to the American influence.

Think of Koto Buki as the traditional sushi restaurant with plenty of entrees from the classic Japanese-American repertoire. Koto Buki just moved up the hill from Piedmont Avenue where it had been a neighborhood staple for nearly 20 years. It hopes to establish itself in Montclair with the help of fans from the old location.

Kakui Sushi’s owner, Yingji Huang, describes his already popular restaurant as Japanese fusion in the izakaya tradition, that’s a place where hearty nosh meets sake. Yingji says a Japanese tapas bar is a fair description. Kakui specializes in sakes imported from Japan. Yingji says he serves brands that are difficult to find outside of Japan. The restaurant’s signature dish is gindara: That’s sea bass glazed in a miso/sake reduction. “It’s a sweet miso that goes perfectly with the salt water fish,” says Yingji.

Now’s the time to visit Kakui. Yingji says he’s just got hold of some heirloom tomatoes and Hokkaido scallops that go great with a particularly smooth sake from the Masumi brewery.

Telecom Towers in the Hills

A telecom company recently asked the city for permission to build three towers on Skyline Boulevard to fill in cellular “dead zones” in the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods.

The View from Skyline Before the Age of Cell Phones

Ranging in height from 36 feet to 41 feet, it’s not likely that the towers will be built as planned. Aubrey Rose, who works for the city’s planning and zoning department, said that the site for one of the proposed towers is actually outside Oakland’s borders on unincorporated county land. Rose said that the other two towers can’t be considered for a public right of way in their current design. The second and third rules for telecom towers in the city’s planning rule book couldn’t be more clear: “Monopoles should not be sited to create visual clutter or negatively affect specific views,” and “Monopoles shall be screened from the public view wherever possible.” Rose said that the towers would have to be moved deeper into the woods, or significantly more concealed (You’ve seen the telecom towers disguised as trees) to pass muster. While the Oakland Hills aren’t the home to many towers, said Rose, the number of applications is growing.

Here are the locations for the towers:

  1. 41 feet:  Skyline Boulevard, east side of street (north of Roberts Park entrance).
  2. 36 feet:  Skyline Boulevard, south side of street (southeast of Sequoyah Bayview trailhead beyond turn-out). Withdrawn by applicant.
  3. 36 feet:  Skyline Boulevard, north side of street (adjacent to Chabot Space & Science Center street entrance).

The towers will be discussed at a meeting of the Planning Commission scheduled for August 4.

SmartMeters Arrive in Montclair

Pacific Gas and Electric has installed around 6 million of its new SmartMeters across the state. Power customers here in the Oakland Hills are now starting to get theirs.

One of PG&E's Old Analog Meters

The first gripe about the new meters was that they didn’t work. The knock was that they overcharged. According to PG&E, only 0.12 percent of the SmartMeters they’ve installed are not beaming data back to the mother ship. And if that happens, the utility user actually gets a discount on the next bill. PG&E says that the SmartMeters are phase one of creating a smart power grid. When electricity usage can measured across the network in real time, the utility and its customers save energy and money. That’s the idea, anyway.

The SmartMeters are arriving in Montclair just in time for a new controversy. The East Bay Express writes that some people think the bursts of radio waves the meters transmit can harm one’s health. A bunch of Northern California towns have called for a moratorium on the SmartMeters. The Marin Independent Journal opined this week that PG&E needs to do a better job of explaining the SmartMeters. As the East Bay Express noted, PG&E won’t say how powerful the “peak pulses” on the SmartMeters actually are.

What’s been your experience with the new technology? Do you look forward to lower bills, or do you worry the SmartMeters will be hazardous to your health?

Rescue the Rescuers

About two months ago, passerby at the corner of International Boulevard and 42nd Avenue in East Oakland found themselves being followed by a fawn not more than a few days old. Bleating in clear distress, the baby deer was too young to know she should be afraid of humans. She was lucky her mistake didn’t cost her her life.

Photo By Jack Gescheidt

Someone called the police, the police called county animal control, and animal control called Lila Travis at Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue. Travis drove down to International Boulevard and coaxed the fawn into her car. Once in the safety of the animal shelter, the fawn thrived. She’ll soon be released into the wild.

That fortunate fawn was one of several thousand creatures rescued over the past decade by the volunteers at Yggdrasil, who have turned a rented home on a third of an acre in the Oakland Hills into a refuge for orphaned, injured and sick wildlife. There are about 60 critters in various stages of rehabilitation on the property now: Raccoons, snakes, squirrels, turtles, birds, opossums. In about a month, the animals and their human helpers will need a new home. The rent’s going up by $1,000 and Yggdrasil can’t afford it. Travis, who founded Yggdrasil with her husband in Temescal, 10 years ago, said the non-profit is looking for a new space.

Before Yggdrasil opened, the vast majority of wounded and ailing wild animals discovered by humans would be euthanized by city or county officials. On Thursday, Yggdrasil is hosting a lecture titled, “Secrets of a Familiar Neighbor.” The neighbor in question is the raccoon, a creature with more fascinating traits and habits than one might expect. In addition to talking about raccoons in the wild, Yggdrasil’s resident raccoon expert, Megan Isadore, will discuss ways that humans and raccoons can coexist more peacefully in the urban wild.

Are you interested in helping Yggdrasil? The outfit needs to raise $150,000 to build a new home. But they also need people to write letters of support to the Oakland City Council and the mayor’s office.  They need people to help move when the time comes. They need the community’s creativity.